Democratic Council Member Justin Brannan looks to have secured a victory Tuesday night over his Republican colleague and opponent Ari Kagan in the contest for a southern Brooklyn council seat, capping off the most hotly contested race in this sleepy election cycle.
Brannan secured himself a third term in the council, leading with 58.18% of the vote with 97% of scanners reporting, according to unofficial Board of Elections results, and taking the race in a wide margin despite expectations of a close race.
“Oh it’s done. Brannan’s not even here yet and it’s done,” said Comptroller Brad Lander to the crowd at Brannan’s victory party at The Brooklyn Firefly as they awaited the Council Member’s arrival.
The Democratic council member, who chairs the body’s powerful Finance Committee, was victiorious as he took the stage in Bay Ridge.
“This was a tough race, and at times, the toxic tribalism that has really ravaged our politics beyond recognition felt insurmountable,” he told Brooklyn Paper after he celebrated his win. “We ran with our hearts because we’d rather lose being who we are than win being someone we’re not. And these days, it’s easy to divide people up. It takes really hard work to bring people together, but that’s the hard work that everyone in this room is committed to.”
Meanwhile, Kagan, at his own shindig just blocks away at Bay Ridge Manor catering hall, conceded in front of a supportive crowd.
“I would like to say thank you so much from the bottom of my heart,” Kagan said. “I’m a very, very lucky man … Yes, this race did not end the way he wanted. We worked very hard.”
Kagan said he and his campaign discussed issues that were important to everyday New Yorkers – public safety, education, and lower taxes.
“I love this job, I love public service, and I am not going anywhere,” he said.
Brannan made an all-hands-on-deck push in the final weeks of campaigning, bringing out Democratic Party heavy-hitters like state Attorney General Letitia James and many of his council colleagues to campaign on his behalf. His operation was also boosted by a big spending blitz from major labor unions like 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council and the New York State Nurses Association, who together spent $200,000 on voter communications for his campaign — according to a report from City and State.
Brannan told Brooklyn Paper his win boiled down to “hard work.”
“I’ve never knocked on this many doors, I knocked on 3,000 doors, just me,” he said. “Look, it’s hard, because there’s a lot of people who answer the door and say ‘Look, why are you any different from the three, four, five other politicians over the year who knocked on my door? People feel very disenfranchised.”
The council member also got the backing of Mayor Eric Adams a couple of weeks before the election, though it is unclear how much of a boost the Democratic mayor’s endorsement gave him.
The highly contentious race for Council District 47 kicked off last December when Kagan left the Democratic Party to become a Republican.
Kagan’s move followed the 2022 City Council redistricting process, which combined parts of his and Brannan’s current districts, 43 and 47 respectively, into a new District 47. The redrawn district includes the neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Coney Island.
Kagan switched parties when it became clear Brannan would trounce him in a Democratic primary, though he claimed it was because his views no longer aligned with the Democrats. He has run with a focus on pay raises for the NYPD, defending the specialized high school admissions test and opposing the city’s efforts to provide for tens of thousands of migrants.
“We showed that this city is the best, that southern Brooklyn is ready for change, and is ready to listen to the message,” Kagan said on Election Night. “I believe that New Yorkers should be our priorities always. I am a Jewish refugee from Belarus. I came to America the right way. I followed all the rules, I was vetted, went through extensive background checks and health checks, and that’s the way it should be in the United States of America.”
Meanwhile, Brannan painted himself as a council member with a track record of delivering for the community he has represented for six years. He has pointed to his efforts to secure capital funding for building a new Bay Ridge Senior Center and to renovate the Bay Ridge Community Center.
Since Kagan switched parties, the two have been slinging mud at one another with increasing intensity, ratcheting up the political broadsides to an 11 in the final weeks before Election Day.
Brannan has hit Kagan on becoming a Republican since making the switch, a move he’s painted as a betrayal of the constituents who elected Kagan as a Democrat in 2021. He has also blasted Kagan for adopting Republican talking points in opposing migrant shelters in the district, suggesting a ban on elective abortions and allegedly soliciting donations for a September fundraiser over the legal limit.
Kagan has slammed Brannan over his public stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict, for shaping and voting for the Fiscal Year 2024 city budget, which included over a billion dollars in migrant crisis funding, and voting to reduce the NYPD budget by $1 billion in 2020.
The race was further complicated when Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn — also an Assembly member, last week attacked Brannan in a lengthy statement over years-old allegations that he harassed a fellow City Council staffer when the two worked for former Council Member Vincent Gentile.
Brannan has fiercely denied the allegations and was not named in a 2016 lawsuit the staffer — Michael Bistreich — brought against the city and Gentile. The council member and his supporters have blasted Bichotte Hermelyn’s for appearing to help Brannan’s Republican opponent.
Bichotte Hermelyn doubled down on her statement later in the week after Brannan threatened to sue her for libel and his supporters blasted her for the comments. And on Election Day, the Kagan campaign circulated a flyer with much of Bichotte Hermelyn’s original statement on it that was made to look like it came from the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
“We are up by 20 points, this is what a victory looks like and we did this against all of the opposition, against the lies, the deceit, the backstabbing by the Brooklyn Democratic Party, everything,” said state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, one of Brannan’s closest political allies and friends, at Brannan’s election night party. “Justin took it in stride, this community showed up big time, his supporters showed up big time, and we showed the world, we showed all the naysayers what it takes to win a real campaign in this district.”
But Bichotte Hermelyn, in a subsequent statement, denounced the flyers as “false campaign literature” and claimed to have supported Brannan the whole time.
“[Bichotte Hermelyn] united the party, she galvanized the party, because the actual members of the party could not believe that the county leader would be trying to undermine [the] seniormost Brooklyn guy in the council,” Brannan said. “It’s malpractice. The county leader, number one your job is to elect and protect Democrats, and she did the opposite.”
Last updated 11/8/2023, 10:08 a.m.